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Just When the Right Thought Big Government Was History...


Traumatized Americans now support increased defense spending, tough new anti-terrorism measures, and more domestic drilling to lessen reliance on imported oil. President Bush towers near a 90% job approval rating, and congressional Republicans have never been more popular. So why so many long faces on the Right?

Answer: Big Government is back, as Congress and the Bushies work together to prop up battered industries, extend benefits for dislocated workers, and help the public-health system cope with bio-terror. Bush sees this bipartisanship as the ultimate expression of the new tone he wanted to bring to Washington. But true believers on the Right worry that Bush is bending too many conservative principles for the sake of consensus. "It's important that government protect its citizens," says Kenneth L. Connor of the socially conservative Family Research Council. "But that shouldn't be a pretext for growing government."

The restive Right fears that Bush will agree to hike funding for safety-net programs and build new bureaucracies such as the Office of Homeland Security. Conservatives also fret that Bush will sell them out on the House's $100 billion economic stimulus package by tilting toward the Dems and ignoring demands for capital-gains tax cuts and business breaks. One would give almost $6 billion to IBM, General Motors, Ford, and three other companies. Some Senate Dems are backing a $70 billion plan that would promote business investment but also expand unemployment benefits and help pay for health insurance. There also is talk in both parties of bailouts for the insurance and travel industries. "We had just gotten things under control. Now we're about to go blow it all," says Paul Weyrich, president of the Free Congress Foundation.

Are conservative fears misplaced? Maybe not. By 50% to 41%, Americans now say Washington should do more to solve the country's problems, according to an Oct. 5-6 CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll. In a poll completed Sept. 10, the public said, 55% to 36%, that government was doing too much.

One flash point: a plan to federalize airport security, which passed the Senate 100-0. House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) says that would create 37,000 Democratic unionists. Conservatives have also linked hands with the Left to tone down sweeping new law-enforcement powers in Bush's anti-terrorism bill.

"IRRESPONSIBLE." With Bush's approval rating sky-high, it is tough for right-wingers to criticize him directly. Instead, they are railing against new programs, such as an unlimited victims' assistance fund included in the $15 billion airline bailout. "We've done some things that are grossly irresponsible," fumes Assistant Senate Minority Leader Don Nickles (R-Okla.).

To reduce the fallout, Bush has officially endorsed the House stimulus plan, tamped down efforts to raise the minimum wage, and quashed New York's hopes for an additional $56 billion. Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill, who earlier had dismissed the House package as "show business," on Oct. 23 called the Democratic bill "a spending plan." And Office of Management & Budget Director Mitch Daniels warns: "We now face a great risk of runaway spendingand the erection of a much larger permanent federal government."

That's just the kind of tough rhetoric conservatives like to hear. But as Bush is forced to rely on Big Government remedies to soothe an anxious country, the rumble on the Right is likely to get louder. On Oct. 18, correspondent Lorraine Woellert talked with ever-feisty conservative leader Tom DeLay, the House Majority Whip.

On post-September 11 spending:

People have concerns about what the hangover is going to look like. Come May or June, when people wake up to huge [new] spending and we're getting close to going back into deficit spending, people are going to ask questions about what we did.The President says in time of war we may have to go to deficit spending, but some of us are saying: "No."

On growing support for government:

You can't take five weeks and decide that everything has changed. Certainly, we are different than we were before September 11. But I don't think basic philosophical values have changed.

On bipartisanship:

The Democrats' definition of bipartisanship is buy into my [plan] and I'll come on board.I'm trying to support the President's position, and the press says I'm the guy blowing up bipartisanship. My definition of bipartisanship is: The President has a position. What will it take for you Democrats to support [that] position?


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